Conservation Agriculture and soil fertility management Part 1

Conservation Agriculture and soil fertility management Livestock

Theoretical principles and practices

In South Africa, crop production systems based on intensive and continuous soil tillage have led to excessively high soil degradation rates with a reduction in natural soil fertility in areas under grain production. It also results in the consistent recommendation of the use of huge quantities of chemical fertilizers that are biologically unnecessary, economically extravagant and ecologically damaging. Tillage results in the oxidation and destruction of carbon in the soil by increasing the soil oxygen levels, thereby promoting bacteria populations to expand and consume active carbon in the soil. Soil organic carbon (SOC), or soil organic matter (SOM), is the key element that drives soil health, which in turn is the primary factor having an impact on sustainable crop production. If sound farming practices are sustained over time, soil health improvement could significantly escalate, influenced by positive changes in a wide spectrum of soil parameters, including soil fertility, which then result in improved productivity and profitability of farming systems.

There is general agreement among key stakeholders in South Africa, that soil health and sustainable crop-livestock production will only be achieved through the adoption and implementation of Conservation Agriculture (CA) principles and practices. CA is seen as an ideal system for sustainable and climate-smart agricultural intensification and regeneration, through which farmers can attain higher levels of productivity and profitability, while improving soil health and the environment.

One of the good agricultural practices (GAPs) associated with CA is integrated soil fertility management (ISFM), which essentially depends on locally adapted CA principles and practices to build-up soil health, allowing producers to reduce the use of fertilisers, while sustaining good and stable yields and increasing profitability. This understanding is important if we wish to sustain productivity at the lowest possible costs, both economic and ecological. Without being able to go into details, this paper aims to provide a few principles, advantages and examples of ISFM.

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